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Booze News: Distilled in Room 215

A blog about the Baltimore City Liquor Board

What happened at the Liquor Board on April 17, 2014.

April 24, 2014

Commissioners Smith and Jones in attendance. Former Chairman Stephan Fogleman resigned from the Board and had not yet been replaced.

1:00 p.m. cases

Licensee Kuldeep Singh
Business Name Lal Z, Inc.
Trading As Lal Z Inc.
Address 1434 E. Fayette Street
Type of License Class “A” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal under Article 2B § 10-301(a) by ten or more residents, commercial tenants who are not holders or applicants for any license issued under Article 2B, or real estate owners in the immediate vicinity of the licensed premises
Hearing notes

Approximately five community members were present from the Douglass Homes, unrepresented by an attorney.

Mr. Kodenski had filed a motion to dismiss the protest of renewal, because the petition did not conform to the requirements of Article 2B. He pointed out that the licensee has only been in business since January 2014 and has only begun selling alcohol in March 2014 (the implication being that the community members could not already have complaints about the business). He added that the petition lacks specificity, including dates, times, and places of illegal behavior. He also pointed out that the petition did not have a caption on the top of each page, which makes the entire petition defective. The petition had a caption on one of its pages, describing why the community wanted to protest the renewal, but the rest of the pages just contained signatures and were stapled to the captioned page.

Ms. Diane Corbett and Ms. Catherine Benton-Jones, who work with the Douglass Homes Tenant Council, explained that each signatory had seen and understood the caption on the first page of the petition, but they didn’t know that the petition had to be on each page. Ms. Benton-Jones also said that alcohol sales had begun prior to March 2014.

Commissioner Smith noted that some of the signatures did not have a physical address associated with them.

Zoning B-3-2
Neighborhood Dunbar-Broadway
Area demographics BNIA (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance) did not provide demographic data for this neighborhood.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office 1434 E Fayette St, Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support ~25
Attorney for community None
# of protestants ~5
# of inspectors 0
Result of hearing Protest of renewal dismissed.
Vote tally 2 in favor
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision The required caption for the petition was not on every page; many signatories did not supply addresses.
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None
Licensees Han Sup Yoo & Sung Hae MacDonald
Business Name Hong Ko, Inc.
Trading As Miller’s Liquors
Address 849 Washington Boulevard
Type of License Class “A” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal under Article 2B § 10-301(a) by ten or more residents, commercial tenants who are not holders or applicants for any license issued under Article 2B, or real estate owners in the immediate vicinity of the licensed premises
Hearing notes

There were approximately five community members present to protest the renewal of the license; they were unrepresented by counsel.

Mr. Kodenski, for his client, the licensee, moved to dismiss the petition. He argued that the petition lacked specificity. He also pointed out that some of the signatories live more than 200 feet from the store; therefore, they are not in the “immediate vicinity” of the establishment, as required by the statute. Commissioners Smith and Jones took a few minutes to go through the signatories and their addresses; they found thirteen whose addresses were within 200 feet. Mr. Kodenski pointed out that there are not ten people present at the hearing to protest the renewal; Commissioner Smith responded that the statute doesn’t require ten people to be physically present at a hearing. The commissioners denied Mr. Kodenski’s motion to dismiss and allowed the community members to continue with their case.

Mr. Kodenski submitted a letter from a few residents at 841 Washington Street, who said that they had signed the petition without full knowledge of what they were signing. Mr. Anderson, a community member, pointed out that the licensees had gone door-to-door to talk to all of the people who had signed the petition. Mr. Anderson argued that the letter-writers were afraid of repercussions. Commissioner Smith said that the Board would strike the letter writers from the petition and continue. She pointed out that the letter writers were just three out of around seventy signatories to the petition to revoke the license.

Mr. Anderson testified that the business is poorly run and neglected. The licensees allow criminal activity and are bad neighbors. There is trash in front of the building. He went on to argue that the licensees’s business practices are predatory. They sell mostly miniature bottles of alcohol. He testified that the establishment is a haven and a magnet for criminal activity. He said that there is a library across the street, and that he will no longer take his kids there. Fights break out spontaneously and drug dealing is rampant. He told the Board that the Washington Village/Pigtown community is on the verge of revitalization, and the community wants to turn the corner. A place like the establishment dissuades other businesses and residents.

Mr. Anderson submitted a public health study that showed poorer health outcomes for people who live in a liquor-dense environment. Mr. Kodenski protested the inclusion of the study, stating that there is no factual connection between this particular establishment and the allegations of the study. He argued that the study did not have any probative value and that it would be prejudicial to admit it. Commissioner Smith overruled the objection, stating that the Board will assign the appropriate weight to it.

Mr. Kodenski then cross-examined Mr. Anderson about how often he attends community association meetings (when he can), how long he has lived in the neighborhood (10 years), and how often he passes the establishment (every day). Mr. Anderson testified that he passes by often, sees people double-parking frequently, and sees people urinating sometimes. He did not know whether there had been any arrests at the location, and he has never seen security cameras. He admitted that the licensee had installed “no loitering” signs recently.

Other community members testified about the establishment; Mr. Gordon Baker has seen loitering and what appeared to be drug dealing. Mr. Heinz Murray, the Vice President of Citizens of Pigtown, a community group, informed the Board that quite a few residents have come to him to talk about the store. He said that people loiter outside continually, and, when the police come by, they duck into the establishment and pretend as though they’re shopping. He said that he has asked the licensees to come and meet with residents and they have never come. Mr. Murray stated that he has seen public urination at the store. Commissioner Smith asked whether the person who was drinking alcohol outside and urinating could have been from a different establishment. Mr. Murray said that the closest liquor store is about ten blocks away, though there are taverns that sell packaged goods over the bar that are closer. Mr. Kodenski asked, “You have an iPhone, have you ever taken a picture of someone urinating in front of the liquor store?” Mr. Murray retorted, “Have you?”

Liquor Board inspector Joann Martin testified that she has been to the establishment six or more times in the past year, and each time she had gone there, everything was in order. She did not witness any loitering inside the store. There is plexiglass everywhere, and there is no room to sit. She has received 311 complaints about the store about drug activity; when she went to follow up about the activity, which she admitted could have been hours later, she did not observe any drug activity and could not substantiate the complaints.

Commissioner Jones asked Inspector Martin how many inspections she had done in the past year. She replied that she had done nine inspections, four as a result of complaints. She hasn’t seen anything negative while she’s been there.

Mr. Eugene MacDonald testified on behalf of his wife, the licensee. He himself is not the licensee. He told the Board that he tells loiterers to move along. He has done a coat drive for nearby Paul’s Place (a nonprofit organization that provides basic assistance to low income people). Mr. MacDonald said that he brings his children to the liquor store sometimes and that it is not an unsafe place.

Zoning R-8
Neighborhood Washington Village/Pigtown
Area demographics The Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (BNIA) did not have demographics available for Washington Village/Pigtown.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes.
Location of entity’s principal office 849 Washington Blvd, Baltimore, MD 21230
Attorney for licensee Mr. Melvin Kodenski
# in support ~20
Attorney for community None
# of protestants ~10
# of inspectors 1 – Joann Martin
Result of hearing License renewed; the Board held that the licensee is required to meet with the community within forty-five days, and the community members should report to the Board if the licensee fails to meet that request.
Vote tally Smith and Jones in favor.
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision The Board found that the community members provided credible testimony and that their concerns are valid. However, their statements were not supported by police reports, photographs, or any specific dates or times. The Board did find that the licensee has failed to communicate with the community.
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None

2:00 p.m. docket

Licensees Andre Willabus, Tanya Mason & Carlos Mason
Business Name Harrison & Mason, LLC
Trading As Orem Liquors
Address 2300 Orem Avenue
Type of License Class “A” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal under Article 2B § 10-301(a) by ten or more residents, commercial tenants who are not holders or applicants for any license issued under Article 2B, or real estate owners in the immediate vicinity of the licensed premises
Hearing notes

About twenty community members appeared to protest the renewal of the license; about four people appeared to support the licensee. The licensee was represented by Mr. Michael Munafo.

Ms. Barbara Anderson-Dandy served as the lead representative from the community. She testified that this store has been a nuisance for many years and that it disturbs the peace, safety, and general welfare of the community. The store has a lot of debris and litter in front of it. There have been robberies and shootings close by. Mr. Munafo, on behalf of his clients, the licensees, denied all of Ms. Anderson-Dandy’s allegations. Ms. Anderson-Dandy submitted letters from community members in support of her allegations; the letters had been notarized, which is not necessary under the Liquor Board’s Rules and Regulations.

Councilman Nick Mosby, from Baltimore City’s 7th district, testifies that he stands with community members to speak out against an entity that has caused significant harm to the neighborhood. He told the Board that establishments in a community should add value to the community, not take away from the community. He pointed out that three years (the length of time that the current licensee has been at the store) is enough time to work with a community and to clean up the issues of the past. Commissioner Smith asked whether Mr. Mosby had witnessed any loitering or debris, personally. Councilman Mosby responded that he lives five minutes away from the store, and that he has close friends nearby. He has personally seen constant loitering, debris and trash. He has witnessed it firsthand and has called 911 twice. He held an “Enough is Enough” march last summer, which stopped specifically at this store.

Pastor Basha Jordan, from Hope Alive Ministries and Deliverance Fellowship, testified that the neighborhood is overrun with drug activity. He runs a men’s recovery house nearby, called House of Hope. He is a licensed clinician for drugs and alcohol. As the drug problem has escalated at the store, Pastor Jordan took his church to the corner and held a prayer vigil right in front of the store. He testified that addiction is a spiritual problem, citing a sign in the window that says, “spirits sold here.” He testified further about liquor in the community, saying that alcohol is the number one drug in America and is the “number one killer of our people.” Mr. Munafo asked Pastor Jordan, “is it true you’ve never actually spoken to the licensee?” Pastor Jordan said that it was true and that he hadn’t been in the store in the past twelve months.

Baltimore City Police Officer Lawrence Laprade testified that he had received complaints of heavy drug trafficking at the corner. He responded the next day to investigate. Several people were inside the store when he arrived, and they immediately left when he entered. Officer LaPrade took their abrupt departures to mean that the people were involved in illegal activities; he testified that it was unusual activity.

Mr. Munafo objected to the computer-generated reports provided by the police officer of 911 calls at the address. Commissioner Smith overruled the objection, but she required that the community redact all of the calls that were more than a year old.

Community member Marshall Bell also testified regarding the intersection; he lives two blocks away and has been in addiction recovery for over three years. Prior to that, according to Mr. Bell, he “did his business at that specific location.” He testified that a few of the men who used to sell drugs to him “are the same gentlemen who are posted up at that intersection today, the same boys.” He testified that the drug activity is directly related to the hours of operation of the store, because on Sundays, when the store is closed, there is no drug activity outside. He explained to the Board that the store is a place where folks can congregate without any pressure other than from the Baltimore Police. He has never seen anybody come out of the door and tell people to go away.

Ms. June Jones then testified about how the store impacts the peace and safety of the elderly people in the community. She goes into the store to play the lottery ever day. She testified that she had seen someone drinking beer inside the store (which is not allowed in a Class A carryout liquor store), last month. She also testified that she had seen a drug transaction inside the store. The commissioners asked her how she knew that it was a drug transaction that she saw. She told the Board that she had lived in Baltimore all her life of 78 years, and she has seen many drug transactions in her community since about the 1950s, when drugs began to take hold in her neighborhood.

The store manager then testified that he does not permit people to drink alcohol or sell drugs in his store. He asks people to move away when they are loitering, but he has to consider his own safety, too. He testified that many of the 911 calls provided by the community are calls that he himself made. He also testified that he sells cigarettes at an elevated price, in order to discourage people from buying them, because he hates cigarettes.

Ms. Anderson-Dandy asked the store manager why he has never tried to contact the community. He responded, “why didn’t the community contact me?” He continued, explaining that there isn’t any specific reason why he didn’t contact the community association or other leaders, but he is very busy running the store.

Zoning R-8
Neighborhood Parkview/Woodbrook
Area demographics 6% White, 90% Black, 0% Asian; 1% Hispanic ethnicity; 28% households have children under age 18; median household income: $28,502.54; 28% of households living below the poverty line.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes
Location of entity’s principal office 810 S. Caton Ave, Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee Mr. Michael Munafo
# in support ~5
Attorney for community None
# of protestants ~20
# of inspectors 0
Result of hearing License renewed but suspended for six months.
Vote tally Smith and Jones in favor
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision The community needs a reprieve from all of the illegal activity. The community was able to show specific incidents of drug trafficking.
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None.
Licensee Joseph J. Lear, Jr.
Business Name None; Mr. Lear is a sole proprietor without a business entity.
Trading As Lears II
Address 3500 O’Donnell Street
Type of License Class “BD7” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal under Article 2B § 10-301(a) by ten or more residents, commercial tenants who are not holders or applicants for any license issued under Article 2B, or real estate owners in the immediate vicinity of the licensed premises
Hearing notes

Neither the licensee nor the community was represented by counsel.

Ms. Elizabeth Dolan volunteered to be the community representative for the purpose of the hearing. She introduced the case to the Board, arguing that Lears II has had a proven connection with drugs and with alcohol sales to intoxicated individuals. There are consistently double-parked vehicles, sometimes on both sides of the street, whose drivers go inside for hours at a time to drink alcohol at Lears II. The business produces noise and trash; the services at the bar are not unique, and there is an overall negative impact on the general welfare of the community.

Ms. Kristin Ernst, administrator of group email account, submitted into evidence nine letters from individuals who could not be present at the hearing.

Mr. Lear responded to the allegations by sayings, “I don’t know any of these people. I’ve done everything I have for that community.”

Ms. Ernst testified that people loitering outside of Lears II harass people who walk by, use vulgar language and are overly drunk. She said that the customers do not live in the neighborhood and that people can’t walk on that side of the street because of the rude patrons. Intoxicated people have followed her to her home as she was walking her dog, and a patron was smoking in the bar once and the bartender did nothing about it. Ms. Dolan went into more detail about the double-parked vehicles, littering and trash outside the establishment. She distinguished Lears II from other bars within a block: other bars are more responsive to neighborhood complaints and are more involved in their communities.

Ms. Jennifer Polito testified about drug transactions and sales of alcohol during prohibited hours (i.e., after 2AM). She testified that she saw a suspicious individual who was coming in and out of Lears II over a time period of several hours, getting into vehicles, driving around the block and then getting back out of the vehicles and going inside Lears II.

Ms. Robin Shay testified that she witnessed a drug deal inside the courtyard of her home; she followed the perpetrators, and the woman who had bought the drugs went directly inside Lears II.

Mr. Jamison Ernst testified that he had seen someone with a crossbow standing right in front of the door of Lears II, pointing it around. He has seen more than ten people leave the bar and publicly urinate outside. And people leave Lears II well after closing time every Friday and Saturday and are loud and obnoxious. Mr. Lear asked Mr. Ernst whether the crossbow was loaded? Mr. Ernst wasn’t sure. Mr. Lear said, “A bow with no arrow, doesn’t seem dangerous to me. All of a sudden, you people!”

Mr. Dan Tracy, Vice President of the Canton Community Association, testified about how he had brought the residents’ concerns to Mr. Lear and discussed them at length and in writing. He said that Mr. Lear had fixed a few things but not everything.

Baltimore Police Detective Leo Siegmund testified on behalf of Mr. Lear that the police had received a complaint from Mr. Lear about the drug dealing problem that Ms. Polito had witnessed. The police investigated the situation and arrested the perpetrator, a Mr. Hill.

Liquor Board Inspector Ed Owens testified that he has been to the establishment four or five times and has never noticed any illegal activity in or outside the bar. He has never been there when there was a crowd. Mr. Lear has been a licensee for twenty years and has had few issues, in the opinion of Mr. Owens. There have been three complaints within the past year, which, according to the inspectors, were all unsubstantiated.

In conclusion, Ms. Dolan told the Board that the Canton neighbors are “open to bars if they’re willing … to do the bare minimum.”

In his final rebuttal and conclusion, Mr. Lear said that he “think[s] the[] [protestants] want the bar gone because it’s high priced houses they paid for. They’re just upset because I’m there. The bar has been there since 1934.”

Mr. Lear’s wife, in the audience, during the breaks in the Board’s hearing, stated (loudly, for all of the audience to hear), about the protestants: “bunch of snobs. They all have money.” Mr. Lear turned to her during another break and asked if she recognized any of the protestants, and she said, “I don’t know ‘em and I don’t want to know ‘em. They think they’re better than us.”

Zoning R-8
Neighborhood Canton
Area demographics 86% White, 4% Black, 3% Asian; 5% Hispanic ethnicity; 9% households have children under age 18; median household income: $82,130.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? No corporate entity exists (individual ownership of a liquor license is permitted under Article 2B).
Location of entity’s principal office No corporate entity exists.
Attorney for licensee None
# in support ~5
Attorney for community None
# of protestants ~10
# of inspectors 1 – Edward Owens
Result of hearing License renewed, but suspended for thirty days: fifteen Fridays and Saturdays to begin May 1.
Vote tally Smith and Jones in favor
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision Commissioner Smith stated that there is clearly a generational divide between Lears II and his current neighbors. The case was presented well; the neighbors’ concerns have been itemized and supported with evidence. A liquor license is a privilege, not a right. Lear has been negligent in his management. The Board considers this suspension a wake-up call and will not tolerate drug dealing, public urination, and intoxication.
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None
Licensee Chukwuma Okeke
Business Name Broadway Pharmacy, LLC
Trading As Broadway Pharmacy
Address 1645 E. Baltimore Street
Type of License Class “A” Beer, Wine & Liquor License
Reason for hearing Protest of Renewal under Article 2B § 10-301(a) by ten or more residents, commercial tenants who are not holders or applicants for any license issued under Article 2B, or real estate owners in the immediate vicinity of the licensed premises)
Hearing notes

Mr. Tahir Farooq, the applicant for the license who had been approved in February 2014 for the transfer of ownership of the license, was present on behalf of the current licensee; Mr. Farooq testified that Mr. Okeke is very ill.

The attorney for Mr. Farooq and Mr. Okeke pointed out that the protest of renewal petition does not contain specific allegations of violations against Broadway Liquors and that the petitioners are complaining of zoning issues.

Community members Magdalena Fitzsimmons and Davita Covener complained that they were confused about who the license currently belongs to. They had seen the February docket, that the license was transferred to Mr. Farooq, but now he is telling them that the license belongs to the former owner. The building has been a pharmacy for years and years, with a license to sell liquor. However, now, it’s clear to the community that Mr. Farooq’s intent is to make it a full-fledged liquor store. The neighbors have complaints about loitering and urination under the current owner. The neighborhood is saturated with liquor stores and there is a nearby addiction treatment center whose patients are negatively impacted. Ms. Covener asked, “could you clarify: if the license is being transferred, who is renewing the license?” Commissioner Smith explained that the transfer was approved in February but that Mr. Farooq had not yet completed all of the necessary steps to transfer the license.

Zoning O-R-2
Neighborhood Washington Hill
Area demographics 58% Black, 29% White, 5% Asian; 7% Hispanic ethnicity; 29% of households have children under age 18; 35% of households live below poverty line; median household income $30,550.74.
Does corp entity exist, in good standing? Yes; yes
Location of entity’s principal office 1645 E Baltimore St, Baltimore, MD
Attorney for licensee None
# in support 1
Attorney for community 1
# of protestants 2
# of inspectors 1 – Karen Brooks
Result of hearing Petition dismissed, because it lacks specificity.
Vote tally Smith and Jones in favor
Portions of state law cited in decision None
Other reasons given for decision None
Issues raised in audit present in this case or other issues observed None

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